DEIR AL-ZOUR , Syria, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Islamic State militants attacked the strategic Deir al-Zour air base in Syria Friday, fighting with government forces at the government's easternmost stronghold.
The adjacent village of al-Jafra was also taken by IS, part of an assault designed to capture the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zour and separate it from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The surrounding area controlled by IS has been the site of public executions and the removal of the native Sunni al-Sheitaat tribe. Civilians are caught between IS atrocities and the Assad government, which has conducted airstrikes to retaliate against IS advances.
"ISIS (the Islamic State) is trying to win the fight in Deir el-Zour. I can tell why." journalist Abdul Hamid told the International Business Times. "In Deir el-Zour, most people hate them. They are now trying to defeat the regime to make people accept them."
The air base is among the last places under control of the Assad government in the province. The oilfields of the province have been a valuable source of revenue to IS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, headquartered in England, reported at least 19 government troops and seven IS members have been killed thus far in the battle, which began with a suicide bombing at a military installation in the city of Deir al-Zour. It added fighting has been intense, and that the government has shelled surrounding villages with artillery fire.